How did they know it was a Pakistani bird? It had a Pakistani address stamped on its body, said news reports; specifically the words “Shakargarh” and “Narowal” along with a phone number. Shakargarh is a town in the Narowal district of Pakistani Punjab. Maybe the bird is a pet from Shakargarh and the number is that of its owner? Perhaps. But since this is now a India-Pakistan matter, no one’s taking any chances.
“We are investigating the matter and have alerted the Intelligence Bureau and the Border Security Force," the Senior Superintendent of Police in Pathankot told the Indian Express.
It didn’t end there. The police proactively got the bird X-rayed but, disappointingly, found nothing. Nevertheless, a diary entry was made by the cops branding the bird a "suspected spy”. “If found to be a spy we will take action,” the police warned.
This incident is part of a long chain of incidents that illustrate how zoological warfare and espionage has been a top concern of the authorities in the subcontinent.
In 2011, Pakistani authorities arrested an Indian monkey for crossing the heavily fortified border, presumably since the act was done without the proper papers. Even more inexplicably, the Pakistanis named the monkey Bobby and placed it in a zoo, adjacent to a Pakistani monkey, Raju. Bangladesh confronted with the same issue last month, as an elephant tried to cross over from India, were less kind: they shot the poor animal dead.
Earlier, in 2010, another pigeon was caught by Indians – it was thought by the police to be on a “special mission of spying”. At the time, the Outlook reported that the matter was being taken very seriously and the “pigeon is being kept in an air conditioned room which is being guarded by policemen” (the incident happened in May, hence the AC).
This preoccupation with pigeons has meant that oftentimes, humans end up being treated like these birds. Fishermen arrested for straying into foreign waters are often released as a peace measure, much like doves are released at an in international summit.
A few people on Twitter, though, expressed their scepticism about this idea of using animals as spies in this day and age.
'Spy' pigeon from Pakistan jailed in Pathankot. The pigeon's cover was reportedly blown after it attempted to order a Beef Fry.
— lindsay pereira (@lindsaypereira) May 29, 2015
Billions of dollars of American military aid and Pak comes up with the latest, most sophisticated unmanned drone. http://t.co/qRjJ0ipjmg
— Sir Casm (@_MrAlBundy) May 29, 2015
Slow day on the India-Pakistan border as another "spy bird" is detained. Those crazy pigeons. http://t.co/o1WVA9Z5J2
— Nicola Smith (@niccijsmith) May 29, 2015
Zoological warfare might not be all that probable but when it comes to the subcontinent, every case involving enemy countries is looked into. After all, as Bertrand Russell gently put it, “nationalism is an extreme example of fervent belief concerning doubtful matters”.
As it happens, Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who had accurately captured much of the frenzy surrounding the birth of the modern subcontinent, had also predicted this specific instance of Indo-Pak tension.
In his short story, Tithwal ka Kutta (The Dog of Tethwal, a reference to a village in Kashmir on the Indo-Pak border), a stray dog flits between Indian and Pakistani army camps. Soldiers on both sides treat it like a pet but then also begin to suspect the animal of extra-national loyalties.
When the Indians place a collar tag on the dog, naming it “Chapad Jhun Jhun” (a nonsense phrase), it puts the Pakistanis into a tizzy. What could it mean, "Chapad Jhun Jhun"? Was it a secret code? Was the dog an Indian agent, spying on the Pakistanis? The dog is interrogated thoroughly but, in reply, it only wags its tail.
The story ends of with the dog running around in no man’s land, with both the Indians and Pakistanis shooting around it, in order to force it into the enemy camp. The terrified dog is first hit in the leg and then eventually shot dead, with one of the characters ending off by saying: “wahi maut mara jo kutte ki hoti hai”. He died like a dog.